The teachers at Saint Mark Catholic Academy in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, might not have expected an education in Star Trek’s Klingon language during a recent professional day presentation by St. Joseph’s University, New York ACES Director Erica David and Assistant Director Rania El-Badry — but the unconventional teaching method proved to be a productive way to help teachers understand the needs of non-native English speaking students.
David explained that when she and El-Badry discussed their approach for the presentation, El-Badry shared a helpful exercise she experienced during her English language teacher training. The instructor taught El-Badry and her peers a language that none of the students were familiar with — Turkish — to demonstrate the challenges a student might face when sitting in a class taught in their non-native language.
“I liked the idea because it provided an immersive language experience similar to what (English as a Second Language) students experience in the classroom,” David said. “Since neither of us is fluent in Turkish, I opted for Klingon. Yes, I’m a Star Trek fan.”
In Stark Trek, the warrior race Klingon speaks a language also called Klingon. The presentation was called “Tlhingan Mah: A KlitlhIngan Hol, tlhInganpu,” which David said translates roughly to “We Are Klingon: A Klingon as a Second Language Course.”
David and El-Badry delivered the presentation to 14 Saint Mark faculty members, who were challenged to perform Klingon language dialogues with little preparation and no background in the language.
The workshop built upon that experience to culminate in strategies for working with English Language Learner (ELL) students in the classroom.
A St. Joseph’s University, New York and Saint Mark Catholic Academy Collaboration
Mark Wilson, principal at Saint Mark, approached David to take part in a professional development workshop, supporting teachers with ELL students in their elementary school classrooms. Wilson, a 2008 graduate of St. Joseph’s Brooklyn campus, said he noticed a recent influx of Eastern European students in his school who have little background in English. Many of the students exclusively speak Russian or Ukrainian at home.
After Wilson earned an English degree from St. Joseph’s in 2008, he worked for a few years in the school’s institutional advancement office. During his Friday lunch hours, he worked with Associate Dean for New Initiatives Mik Larson as a volunteer tutor for ACES students — raising his awareness of the many ways the program helps ELL students thrive and succeed.
Wilson thought the teachers at his school could benefit from meeting leaders of the ACES program, since they have a similar educational goal.
“We are indeed grateful to Erica David and Rania El-Badry, who took time out of their busy schedules to conduct a professional development for our teachers,” Wilson said. “Through some very unique and interactive methods — including speaking Klingon — Ms. David and Ms. El-Badry provided our teachers with some helpful strategies and methodologies for assisting our students who are English Language Learners.
“The feedback from the teachers was great; everyone left with a smile and a new idea or two about how to best help their students.”